Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: True Blood (S2)

As I promised, I did revisit the second season of True Blood. The first time it aired, it had me gripped, waiting excitedly for each new episode. I was still in the haze of love for season one and expected the show to reach new heights. (Spoiler: it didn’t necessarily.)

er-trueblood-2True Blood (season 2)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A new serial killer seems to be prowling Bon Temps, this one with a penchant for the victims’ hearts. Tara gets increasingly involved with the cult-like household of Maryann while Jason travels to Dallas to join another cult. Meanwhile, in a mostly unrelated story, Eric asks Sookie to help him clear a mystery.

How I found it:
I didn’t even have to search.

Summary judgment:
It’s still better than any later seasons and still much more focused but it doesn’t have the sharpness of season one.

Best things about it:
Most of the show falls into two separate plotlines and the one involving Sookie I find quite exciting. I was always curious about vampire politics on the show and we get glimpses of that. I like how the creators realized the inherent attractiveness of Eric and just ran wild with it. And I find Godric such a good twist on the whole moral dilemma of the existence of vampires. Jason’s story also works and the fanatics he gets involved with shine a new light (heh, I know) on the human-vampire conflict. It is a tragedy of modern television how later seasons will do literally nothing with any of these themes.

Worst things about it:
Pretty much everything to do with the other storyline – the maenad – until the very moment when Sookie and Bill finally get involved with that. But until then the whole story had me so bored I only kept myself from fast-forwarding to Dallas scenes through my uncommon restraint. The failure of this storyline only draws attention to all the (numerous) faults of Sam and Tara.

Other pluses:
✤ Bill and Sookie surprised me with the tenderness and loyalty of their relationship and how its portrayal mostly avoids cheap soap opera tricks. (This will change so hard.)
✤ You can only appreciate it knowing future seasons but new motifs that will be picked up later are introduced quite smoothly (most of them, anyway).
✤ Widening the scope from Bon Temps to Dallas and showing more urbane (in a Texas way) vampires makes the mythology interesting.
✤ Jason gets to show off his comedic talent. His lines tend to be overwritten every now and then but that’s not Ryan Kwanten’s fault.
✤ While I don’t care for the storyline as a whole, the way the maenad reveals the brokenness of the town’s people works at times.

Other minuses:
Ugh, Daphne. I forgot about her and didn’t relish the reminder. I’m not a huge fan of Eggs either and particularly of Tara with him.

How it enriched my life:
Despite the unequal charms of this season, it still gave me a lot of pleasure and excitement.

Fun fact:
As far as I remember from the book (I read it ages ago), Godric was more complex there. Living as long as he did, he outgrew his times and his preference for children became unacceptable, which is quite a different idea from this saint we get on the show.

Follow-up:
I guess I will watch season three during some flu or a long trip.

Recommended for:
Those ready to accept that True Blood was only incredibly brilliant in season one and still want to revisit Sookie and the gang. Fans of vampire stories.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Heathers (of 1989)

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Show Case

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

re-themarvelousmrsmaiselThe Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A show created by Amy Sherman-Palladino of Gilmore Girls, except this one is about something specific. It takes place in New York of the 1950s. Midge Maisel, a beautiful, rich young wife, faces a crisis in her personal life and responds by becoming a stand-up comedienne – as one does.

How I found it:
Vulture was ecstatic about the show and the premise sounded interesting so I decided to check it out.

Summary judgment:
It is pure delight.

Best things about it:
Gilmore Girls is one of my ironing shows whose main advantage is its number of seasons and that you don’t need to pay attention to it. But Mrs. Maisel is nothing like that: it has focus, purpose and a very specific vision which shows in its direction, colors and even music. It is a joyful show which doesn’t rely solely on cuteness. And Rachel Brosnahan’s portrayal of the main character adds to the overall delight of the show: you just want to have her charm and chutzpah (and her figure).

Worst things about it:
I guess I connected with Suzie the least. I understand her role in the show but she feels to me the most like a Gilmore transplant and sometimes the relationship between her and Midge is ordained rather than earned.

Other pluses:
✤ I loved Abe played by Tony Shaloub. In this show about strong women he does hold his own and I find his vector lecture (or its conclusion) the funniest scene in the entire season.
✤ The visuals! This fairy-tale, music-hall New York is a place you want to be immediately transported to.
✤ You can hear how much attention the creators paid to the selection of music and it really pays off. The music defines the mood of many scenes so perfectly.
✤ This version of Lenny Bruce is quite a charmer.
✤ While Joel sometimes plays the villain of the story, I appreciate that he remains gray and Midge’s love for him is understandable. Too often the viewer can’t feel anything for the cheating husband and the drama of divorce doesn’t hold up.

Other minuses:
✤ Some, not many, scenes ran a little too long and had me waiting impatiently for the next, more exciting act, particularly if they included Imogene.
✤ I guess making Midge (or her parents) rich can be seen as a cop-out (it’s weird how much she doesn’t have to worry about money and can uphold the lifestyle even after the separation) but it allows to focus on different problems so I didn’t really mind.
✤ Main minus: I wish there were more episodes!

How it enriched my life:
It made me laugh and I learned about stand-up comedy (not a subject I ever felt overly interested in) and it even made me feel Christmas atmosphere for a while.

Fun fact:
Apparently Amy Sherman-Palladino said she wanted to make a show about a woman in the 1950s who didn’t hate her life and that might be the best description of the show and of what makes it so attractive (and also an explanation of why many shows today don’t work for me at all).

Follow-up:
It was one of the occasions when after finishing the show I wished there was more. So I’m definitely up for season two.

Recommended for:
Fans of period pieces, 1950s New York, the history of stand-up comedy and smart shows with a girlish side.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: The Glass Castle (the book)

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Show Case

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: True Blood (S1)

I told you once about my relationship to True Blood and how it bordered on dysfunctional. Well, once I pushed through all the seven seasons I almost forgot how much I loved season one and doubted if I could ever re-live the joy of watching it. Nevertheless, here I am, having just – gleefully! ecstatically! – re-watched the entire season in a few days.

er-trueblood-1True Blood (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Southern gothic as southern and as gothic as they come. Based on a series of Charlaine Harris novels, this drama produced by Alan Ball takes place in a small Louisiana town two years after vampires’ existence has become public knowledge. The resident psychic waitress, Sookie Stackhouse, is dating a southern gentleman-type vampire Bill but someone has taken to murdering women who associate with vampires.

How I found it:
Originally I read in a paper about a new show with vampires. It shows you how long ago it was: True Blood was new and I read newspapers. I loved it at first sight. This re-watch, however, was prompted by a dream I recently had: I was running through tunnels under Paris with Bill (who wasn’t a vampire) and we were escaping a gang of bank robbers. I don’t control those things. Anyway, when I woke up I decided I really missed True Blood.

A special badge for marking the things that continue to delight me.Summary judgment:
It was and still is one of my favorite things ever produced for TV and apparently nothing can change that.

Best things about it:
From the first episode I was hooked like a V addict. I kept sitting up at night to watch an episode to the end (I did the same thing the first time I watched but this time I knew who the murderer was). This show knows exactly what it wants to say and how: it’s got such a precise tone and writing. Details matter. Everything looks just right: from the lush green outdoors to the peeling paint on doors. And don’t get me started on the accents: I think this is where my whole thing for southern accent started.

Worst things about it:
I guess towards the end some threads loosen up in the effort to introduce season two smoothly. I didn’t mind the first time but now I know how much of a problem this will become for the show and I didn’t love Sam’s backstory or the whole Mary Ann business.

Other pluses:
✤ I spent the seven years that True Blood first ran hating Bill. I would go on rants about how he didn’t work as a romantic interest. So fixated was I on my idea of what Bill should be that I didn’t pay attention to anything the show (and Stephen Moyer) was doing well with him: and he really is an interesting character. In fact, I spent the first few episodes crushing on him a bit, but that might’ve been the dream.
✤ I always liked Sookie, for her sass and inner sense of justice, and this has not faded. Anna Paquin was born to play her.
✤ Lizzie Kaplan is so pretty. I always wished she could stay on the show longer.
✤ Lafayette is perfection. Nelsan Ellis combines strength, vulnerability and independence so beautifully.
✤ The show will lose footing with Tara in later seasons but her introduction as an angry infatuated intellectual was such an interesting direction. I wish they hadn’t given up on it.
✤ When you know the solution to the mystery, it’s a different watching experience but I could appreciate how the show adds red herrings like it’s a Creole seafood stew.

er-trueblood-extra-dogOther minuses:
Sam doesn’t work for me: he never did throughout all the seven seasons but this time I realized I didn’t like him from the start. He’s just too whiny.

How it enriched my life:
It’s one of the things that makes me so happy and apparently will make me happy when I re-watch it again. Hereby, it receives an All-Time Favorite badge in recognition.

Fun fact:
Back when I first watched the show and was proselytizing it to everyone and their dog, I recommended it to a guy I was studying with and who was very much a movie buff and he came back complaining about camera angles and scripting and what not. I still hold it against him. (And it’s beautifully filmed, actually, especially the light – or its lack.)

Follow-up:
I will go as far as season two (three, if I’m feeling desperate) for this re-watch but I will surely get back to this one some time.

Recommended for:
Anyone who hasn’t seen the show yet (and is not a movie snob). Those who saw the show and its later seasons and forgot how good the first one was.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

 

Next time: The other season of Stranger Things

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Loving Vincent

er-lovingvincentLoving Vincent

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A bold animation experiment by a Polish artist Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, it tells the story of an attempt to discover the reasons for the death of Vincent van Gogh, undertaken a year later by his casual acquaintance. The movie uses oil painting combined with more typical animation and regular live acting in a truly impressive way, pushing forward the formal limits of animation. Van Gogh’s paintings come to life, the people he painted begin to inhabit his own story and the viewer follows an investigatory journey into his last days. Or you can think of it as of a painted, animated version of that Don McLean song (whose cover, appropriately, is used during the credits).

How I found it:
I saw some sort of trailer when it was being made and thought it a somewhat interesting idea and then my friend A asked me to go with her to see it.

Summary judgment:
Whether you like van Gogh or not (I’m not a fan) this is a chapeau-bas impressive work of art – and of love, which shows.

Best things about it:
I’m really impressed with the guts and patience it took to undertake the whole endeavor, and no less with the fact that it worked. Not only does the movie look great and employs actual paintings by van Gogh in an intelligent way – the story also keeps you interested. It manages to recreate the atmosphere of the places where van Gogh lived in France and to breathe life into the people he immortalized in his portraits. The colors live on the screen and I loved focusing on the thick texture in some of the backgrounds. This technique works particularly well for the images of nature.

Worst things about it:
I said already, I think, that I don’t like criticizing things that are obviously labors of love because I know what it feels like to become so obsessed with a creative idea that you push through just to see it done and, frankly, we could always use more of those. So I’ll just put some minor stuff in “Minuses” but mostly I’m writing to express my admiration.

Other pluses:
✤ The colors and how they are used to create the mood of the scenes. You can see what the light must have looked like for the characters.
✤ It’s quite a feat of both the screenwriters and the actors that even the minor characters are lively and memorable, particularly those in Auvers. You also become quite involved in the very mystery of what happened.

Other minuses:
✤ You need to get used to the vibration that stop-motion animation brings: sometimes the screen seems to twitch before your eyes.
✤ The style is slightly uneven in that in some scenes the actors seem to push through the paintings’ layer more than in others. But I do realize that with an experimental technique like this one, there are no conventions the viewers are used to so everything, both good and bad, becomes more visible.
✤ Probably the storytelling might be called sentimental. I don’t mind so much but I imagine some people I know that would cringe so hard at that. Basically, if you like “Starry Night” the song, you won’t mind this either because the tone is similar.
✤ I guess the biggest thing for me personally is that most of van Gogh’s paintings don’t speak to me on an emotional or aesthetic level (and so I actually preferred their animated versions to the originals). A movie in which e.g. Corot’s paintings come to life, that I would love to see even more.

How it enriched my life:
It interested and impressed me, both on a narrative and technical level.

Fun fact:
At the end of the movie as people where getting up you could hear muffled sniffling in the theater.

Follow-up:
I will be interested in seeing it again, at least to pay even more attention to how the whole thing is done. It’s also definitely worth seeing some sort of making-of movie about.

Recommended for:
Painting and animation lovers. Anyone fascinated by van Gogh’s legend or even just by the whole “tragic artist” myth.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Stranger Things

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Dangerous Liaisons

It’s time for a classic adaptation of an even more classic book,

er-dangerousliaisonsDangerous Liaisons 

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
An adaptation of an 18th-century epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos. It tells a story of the corrupt aristocratic elite and their immoral sexual lives. It focuses on the corruptest of the corrupt: Madame Merteuil and viscount de Valmont, who run the game – until they don’t. The movie was made in 1988 and stars pretty much only stars, including Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, young Uma Thurman and very young Keanu Reeves – all of them outshined by John Malkovich as Valmont.

How I found it:
Well, it’s one of the classics. You don’t really have to look for those. The first time I saw it, probably in high school, it was on TV. This time I watched it after Cruel Intentions to compare the two movies.

Summary judgment:
It’s one of my favorite adaptations, managing not to ruin the book – which is great – at all.

Best things about it:
It captures the book perfectly, even managing to manoeuver around its epistolarity, which is never a good thing for a movie. The movie looks great, with the costumes and the interiors building the lavish, outlandish world of the 18th-century French aristocracy. The actors, unsurprisingly, deliver amazing performances, managing to be both dramatic and funny, when needed.
Malkovich deserves an entirely separate paragraph in this. When I watched the movie for the first time, he surprised me with his sex appeal, despite his looks. But this time I was more impressed with how sinister he is and how every sentence he says reminds the viewer that Valmont is acting all the time: all his lines are declamations.

Worst things about it:
That is hardly the movie’s fault but it’s very difficult to root for any of the protagonists. This is only an actual problem with Pfeiffer, whose character starts as an irritating prig and ends as an irritating doormat, while she should make us feel sorry for her.

Other pluses:
✤ Glenn Close. Malkovich gets perhaps a more showy part and manages to steal the show sometimes but they play off each other beautifully. The Marquise impersonates hypocrisy and deception but still remains a human being, even with a thin layer of feminism somewhere there. Her failure at the end (spoiler?) does not feel entirely triumphant for the viewer.
✤ Keanu Reeves. He comes as close as the movie has to a likeable character, even if he remains in the background.

Other minuses:
The ending leaves a bit to desire, with the somewhat heavy-handed montage and Valmont’s theatrical death (spoiler?).

How it enriched my life:
This is undoubtedly where great cinema meets viewers’ actual enjoyment and there are way too few such movies.

Fun fact:
Is it possible to watch this story or read the book and not wonder how many characters had syphilis? I’m betting all of them.

Follow-up:
I will probably re-watch it but now I feel I should return to my snaily read of the book in French, which I started a few years ago and then dropped because life.

Recommended for:
People who like period dramas and large décolletages. Fans of the original. Lovers of Rococo. Cynics with ideals still there at the bottom of their hearts.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Cruel Intentions

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Bookworming

The Shakespeare Project, Part 4 and Final

As you might or might not remember, last year I’ve embarked on a plan to read all Shakespeare plays between the 450th anniversary of his birthday and the 400th anniversary of his death. As the deadline is a few months ahead and I’ve already read them all, I declare the project a grand success. #selfimprovementfordummieshellyeah

Here are the last plays from the list, including some of my favorites that I left for last.

31. As You Like It

Reading: Third

Pluses: I know this is one of the important plays but I mostly like the woods in it.

Minuses: It spends too much time with the fool(s).

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥ ♥

32. Twelfth Night

Reading: Second

Pluses: There’s something interesting about the female characters.

Minuses: Not terribly interesting though. And I think there’s even more time spent on the fool. I also feel the way Malvolio gets treated is unnecessarily cruel.

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥

33. Macbeth

Reading: Third

Pluses: This has always been one of my favorites. I like the grotesque witches, atmospheric Scotland, psychological self-torture of the villains. Finally, unlike in most of these plays, this one is actually interesting in the simple sense of “what happens next?”

Minuses: There could be a little less fighting, maybe, but that’s just being picky.

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

34. Measure for Measure

Reading: Second

Pluses: This play is positively surprising in how it’s mostly not trying to be funny. I liked when it focused more on moral dilemmas and how sex was viewed as one of them.

Minuses: Sometimes it is trying to be funny.

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥ ♥

35. Antony and Cleopatra

Reading: Second

Pluses: The characters are interesting and the setting around the Roman empire quite ambitious, with the frequent jumps between Egypt and Rome. I think I generally preferred the ancient plays to the Renaissance ones.

Minuses: I still find Cleopatra irritating.

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

36. All’s Well That Ends Well

Reading: Second

Pluses: With this one I finished all the comedies. And the title is quite appropriate for that.

Minuses: Seriously, Bertram? What’s up with him? How marrying him can be any idea of a happy ending? I’m not sure there are any other particularly positive characters, for that matter, though I guess the old timers are the most interesting.

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥

37. Romeo and Juliet

Reading: Fourth?

Pluses: This is simply an interesting play. The events follow swiftly (if, sometimes, hysterically) and the characters are well-differentiated in their tempers and motivations.

Minuses: Not much, but I did enjoy it more when I read it before. I guess it’s like some of those songs that you’ve heard so many times you finally start to wonder what the big deal is and then change the station.

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

And that’s it! I actually expected the undertaking to be more troublesome but, in fact, some of the plays surprised me quite positively. It also gave me a deep, meaningless sense of satisfaction to complete mu cultural gaps. And now on to the other part of the project, a design one, but this one I will probably share elsewhere.

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Bookworming

The Shakespeare Project, Part 3

The time’s come to share the third portion of my Shakespearean experience (here’s the first with explanation and the second one). As I’ve decided to start with the lesser plays now I’m slowly moving on to the bigger titles and this definitely makes the journey more interesting.

21. Pericles

Reading: First

Pluses: After all those other plays it’s refreshing, probably because of the cooperation with another writer. The plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but it reads fast.

Minuses: The characterization of the persons of the play leaves a bit to be desired: Marina is inexplicably perfect, Dionyza irrationally cruel and I won’t even start about all those brothel would-be clients that Marina converts to seeking religious entertainment.

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥ ♥

22. King Lear

Reading: Second

Pluses: Well, this is one of the greats. Even though it’s extremely dark and probably somewhat depressing, it’s got a powerful atmosphere.

Minuses: I guess if you’re looking for an optimistic conclusion this must disappoint.

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

23. Henry VIII

Reading: First

Pluses: It’s the first play with any Henry in the title that I actually enjoyed. I particularly liked how it didn’t have any cold-blooded villains, just normal people with various weak spots: that’s definitely more my kind of a story than all those cartoonish murderers and traitors.

Minuses: If I’m nitpicking I could live without the lower classes’ dialogs but there weren’t a lot of them anyway.

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

24. Coriolanus

Reading: First

Pluses: I like these ancient stories and this one is fairly interesting, especially at the beginning.

Minuses: It lacks a really positive character to root for and the view of politics is altogether depressing.

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥ ♥

25. The Comedy of Errors

Reading: Second

Pluses: This one was fairy light, if not that exciting.

Minuses: Not exactly a story you believe in, is it. I also disliked the treatment of Adriana.

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥

26. Timon of Athens

Reading: First

Pluses: Er, I guess if you try really hard you get to imagine ancient Athens?

Minuses: It lacked redeeming features to me, with Timon going from naïve to misanthropic and all the other characters quite despicable.

Hasty judgment: ♥

27. Troilus and Cressida

Reading: First

Pluses: I liked the characterization of some of the Homeric heroes, different from what you might first expect (like for instance Hector). They felt like actual persons.

Minuses: It’s still not the most exciting of the ancient plays and women’s characterization falls on the negative side.

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥ ♥

28. Hamlet

Reading: Third

Pluses: I must admit I didn’t much appreciate Hamlet on my earlier readings. I couldn’t bear his whining and I found the play overhyped. But this time I appreciated the rawness of the setting and conflicts and the truth of Hamlet’s doubts.

Minuses: To make up for criticizing the play before, I’ll say none.

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

29. Love’s Labour’s Lost

Reading: Second

Pluses: It takes place in the woods, I guess.

Minuses: This play goes completely nowhere. It ends and you wonder what it was all for.

Hasty judgment: ♥

30. Othello

Reading: Second

Pluses: While it’s not one of those irritating plays, I still find it hard to come up with pluses.

Minuses: Of all the famous tragedies I always found this one the weakest. Not only does it lack exciting setting and atmosphere of a gloomy castle or, well, gloomy woods but also everybody is so easily manipulated by Iago. And I really dislike Iago-like characters.

Hasty judgment: ♥ ♥ ♥

Almost there! And actually it’s way ahead of the timeframe I set for myself at the beginning of the enterprise.

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